Jen Zoble translating Melina Kamerić from Serbo-Croatian
Sometimes my memory is like a film in slow motion. So slow that it gets stuck on a single image. Other times it’s so fast that color and sound blur together. I remember the occasional odor. Of fear, the uncertainty of shivering skin. I remember the feeling, and almost nothing else.
I’ve been wandering around for days and asking if anyone remembers what he or she was doing on May 2, 1992. I ask only those who I know for sure were living in my reality. I’m not interested in the ones who can tell me about refugee housing in Zagreb. Or those whose stories begin, When we were at war in Dubai, we almost got killed by the heat… No… I won’t ask them… I ask the ones like me who instantly were changed. Those who learned that only cold water washes out blood. Those who—though they rarely talk about it—feel their stomachs turn when they hear the crackling of fireworks. Those who know that life is not life until you smell death.
Everyone remembers. The date. The day. The hours of the day. Someone was in the basement. Someone looked at a tank through a gun sight. Someone learned that first day what it’s like when someone who belongs to you dies in war.
My mother says, How do you not remember...that day we watched the planes bombard Hum. And then Branka called from Belgrade...asked how we were. And asked whose planes...and I said to her, “Well, who has the planes, Branka? The JNA.”...Branka cried then...and Piva came onto the line and said, “Yes, we know who’s doing this to you...be careful...and give my regards to Bedro.”...How come you don’t remember...And then my mother says...You see, they never spoke again, Papa and Piva. And now there’s no more Papa or Piva.
I’m silent. I don’t remember.
I’m sitting. On my laptop screen, news footage from Dnevnik, the May 2, 1992 broadcast. Through the headphones I hear Senad… Were you shot at from the tram, General? Then the recording trails off…the trams burn in Skenderija…
I’m lying down. Eyes closed. Let’s remember what you did. Remember.
Dnevnik comes on. Ganić says: Alija, this isn’t about you! It’s about the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina! The state is being held captive!
Remember, girl. Slowly. What you did. Did you go to the base? Certainly. The day before that you’d become a member of the Omer Malić battalion. What did you do? Come on. Slowly. What did you eat? You must have eaten. Who did you talk to. Who did you have coffee with. Come on. Remember.
I’m lying down. Eyes closed.
The second of May, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-two. An ordinary day. Twenty-four hours. The parallel reality erased by adrenaline. Sixteen years later, lying with my eyes closed, I remember almost nothing.
Only this: that day, for the first time in my life, I lit a cigarette in front of my late father. Not in front of him. With him.
My memory is reduced to an image. His hand holding a match to the Drina cigarette between my lips.
And even then, only the outline of the image. The knowledge that after that day, after what began then, I would never be the same.
Jennifer H. Zoble is a multimedia essayist, translator of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian literature, and founding co-editor of InTranslation, a project of The Brooklyn Rail. She earned MFAs in literary translation and nonfiction writing from The University of Iowa and a Master’s in teaching from The New School. She recently joined the Liberal Studies faculty of NYU.
Melina Kamerić was born in 1972 in Sarajevo. She writes at night. A Ukrainian translation of her short fiction collection Cipele za dodjelu Oskara was published in 2012 by Folio Publishers Ltd.